Monte: a shadow of its old self
Modern rally features lowest entry ever as Historic event booms
This year's Monte Carlo Rally had just 34 entrants — an all-time low. This year's Monte Carlo Historic Rally, which will run on January 27 - February 3, has attracted 351 entries — exactly the same number as contested the 1962 Monte.
Just two British drivers — WRC Junior rising stars Guy Wilks and Chris Meeke — and five co-drivers tackled the 2005 WRC-opener, whereas 19 British crews have entered the Historic counterpart. Both figures, however, are dwarfed by the UK's 1962 Monte stats: there were 20 works entries among the 119 British crews.
Should we be worried by these figures? Yes and no.
There has been much concern expressed about the rising costs of contesting the WRC and attempts are under way to reduce them. Despite the modern rally being run over a mere 850 miles, of which 219 miles are special stages, the cost of tackling it is far too high to attract the several hundred privateers of yore. Costs would have to be dramatically slashed to lure them back — if they are wanted, that is.
With just 34 entry fees rattling in its tin, the AC de Monaco can't be making a great deal of profit on its WRC event. In stark contrast the Historic Rally's cash register must be ringing a joyful tune, especially as this 1440-mile regularity event requires fewer doctors, safety crews, marshals, gendarmes, radio links and helicopters.
The whole thrust of the WRC in the last 10 years has been to create a standardised package for every event on the calendar to make the sport easier to televise. The rallies of the past, week-long adventures that stretched over most of Europe, were definitely not TV-friendly. But has the WRC gone too far the other way?
The 2005 Monte uses one piece of road to generate seven of its 15 stages so that cars regularly pass cameras during the three days. Add in-car cameras, helicopters picking up live images, satellite tracking and high-tech computerised presentation of stages, and the sport now fits in your living room.
A consequence of this change is a reduction in the size of the entry. It's not just costs that are discouraging the privateers, there is an element of logistics to this: it's impossible to send 350 cars through a stage twice on the same day. To this end the FIA has made a conscious effort to reduce entry sizes. There is a cogent argument behind this: a TV programme can only feature a handful of the field and these are inevitably factory cars with star drivers.
But this scenario creates a list of losers: event organisers have to look to other forms of income, spectators see fewer cars and possibly have to pay for the privilege, and private owners, even if they can afford it, may not be allocated an entry.
The good news, however, is that the marketplace finds its own level. The privateers have voted with their feet and switched to the historic event, where they can find all the fun, bonhomie and most of the excitement generated by the Montes of the 1960s.
The hope is that both sides of rallying have reached their optimum levels and can now consolidate. -- JD
Fact File -- Comparing Montes old and new
Monte 1962: 351 entrants, 2527 milege
Monte 2004: 43 entrants, 987.5 mileage
Monte 2005: 34 entrants, 850 mileage
Historic 2005: 351 entrants, 1440 mileage
What the veterans think
Tony Fall tackled the Monte during the 1960s and 70s for BMC, Lancia and Datsun. He plans to contest this year's Historic event.
"What this all means is that one is a real rally and the other is nothing more than a circus act. I think they should be charged for calling the modern Monte a rally: it's wrecking our sport to pass these TV specials off as proper rallies. When we used to do a Monte we would start on the Friday night, and you knew you'd taken part in a rally if you reached the finish the following Thursday morning."
Björn Waldegård won the Monte Carlo Rally in 1969 and 1970 at the wheel of a Porsche 911.
"It's worrying that Ford were so close to pulling out of the WRC, and that Citroën and Peugeot will pull out at the end of this year. Modern rallying and historic rallying are so different but it looks as if the biggest interest in rallying is in the way it used to be. I think the sport's old style still attracts people more than the sprint type. But TV is king and we just have to accept that situation."
Ove Andersson won the Monte for Alpine Renault in 1971 and oversaw three Toyota victories on the event.
"There's something really wrong with the WRC at the moment. They are trying to make it like F1 and that doesn't work. Rallying's nature is to have elements of distance and endurance. But today the benefits for the manufacturer, competitor and spectator are getting smaller. It doesn't surprise me that historic rallies are so popular."